Phil Jackson was asked toward the end of his introductory press conference on Friday whether he thinks Kobe Bryant is about to play his final season in the NBA.
"I don't think it's his last year," the Zenmaster said with a smile on his face. "Sounds like maybe it's his last year as a Laker....I think there will still be a future for him as he goes though this season into next where people are going to ask, do you still want to play basketball?"
That, of course, opens the door to speculation that the 37-year-old Bryant could team up with Jackson, with whom he won five titles with the Lakers, and Carmelo Anthony at Madison Square Garden beginning in 2016.
Bryant is in the final year of a two-year deal with the Lakers that will pay him $25 million this season to play on a team that has just re-signed Metta World Peace and features a young and hungry Julius Randle.
“We haven’t set anything in stone and I’ve talked about it before," Bryant told Yahoo! Sports last month about this potentially being his last season. "But could this be the last [season]? Absolutely. It’s tough to decide. It’s really tough to make those types of decisions. Players I have spoken to say, ‘Kobe you will know.’
For his part, Jackson said he reached out to Bryant last month to wish him a happy 37th birthday.
"I sent him a message that I'm wishing him a great birthday," Jackson said.
Meantime, Knicks coach Derek Fisher, Kobe's former Lakers teammate, would also like to him continue to play beyond this year.
"I just want him to be healthy and then go from there," Fisher said. "I personally wouldn't like this to be his last year of basketball. I feel like the game of basketball wouldn't be better without him."